The Desert Blooms: A List of Queer Singaporean Plays in the 1980s and 1990s

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It was in April 1992, at the opening of the Singapore Press Holdings Young Playwright Series, when then-Senior Minister of Education Tay Eng Soon intoned, “Ours is still a traditional society which values what is private and personal and is not comfortable with public values and explicit discussions of sexuality and what it considers as deviant values. By all means, let our “cultural desert” bloom. But please let the blossoms be beautiful and wholesome and not be prickly pears or weeds.”

The mid-80s to the early 90s was a particularly prolific period for Singapore theatre. This was the decade which theatre academic Robin Loon described as a “golden age” for local drama. Researcher Terence Chong also noted this period as a time when theatre-makers, both queer and queer-allied, felt emboldened enough to “perform their authenticity”.

The Vault: Desert Blooms delves into these ten years of Singapore theatre history, unearthing an abundance of LGBTQ-themed plays. Some of these plays are now celebrated works which continue to be restaged. Others, despite breaking new ground, have faded into obscurity.

An accompanying exhibition, titled The Desert Blooms, features nine of these plays. The exhibition details who, when and how these plays were created, and also touched on any resistance these plays might have encountered when they were staged for the first time. The Desert Blooms exhibition runs from 30 Nov to 20 Dec 2019 in the Centre 42 Library.

Here are the plays referred to in The Vault: Desert Blooms, with those featured in The Desert Blooms exhibition indicated with an asterix (*):

1986: Lest the Demons Get to Me by Russell Heng*
1987: Army Daze by Michael Chiang
1988: Rigor Mortis by Haresh Sharma & Alvin Tan
1988: Jackson on a Jaunt by Eleanor Wong*
1988: As If He Hears by Chay Yew*
1989: Liwat [Sodomy] by Nizam Rahman
1990: Akka அக்கா by G. Selvanathan*
1991: The Lady of Soul and Her Ultimate ‘S’ Machine by Tan Tarn How
1991: Marrying by Ovidia Yu
1991: Imagine by Ovidia Yu
1992: Another Tribe 异族 by Otto Fong*
1992: Lives Elsewhere 生命他乡 by Lee Chee Kin
1992: The Next Generations 后代 by Lim Soon Lan
1992: Posteterne 英台起诉记 by Goh Boon Teck
1992: Three Fat Virgins Unassembled by Ovidia Yu
1992: The Famous Five Go on an Adventure by Robin Loon
1992: Glass Roots… Please Don’t Step on Them by Haresh Sharma
1992: Porcelain by Chay Yew
1992: Private Parts by Michael Chiang*
1992: Mergers and Accusations by Eleanor Wong*
1993: Land by Haresh Sharma
1993: Don’t Go Swimming, It’s Not Safe by Josef Ng
1993: Brother Cane by Josef Ng
1993: Bugis Street: The Musical
Music by Raymond and Edmund Ooi,
Lyrics by Tan Hwee Hua and Mock Pak Lum
Book by Koh Buck Song and Tan Hwee Hua
1993: We Are Family by Otto Fong
1994: A Language of Their Own by Chay Yew*
1995: Half Century by Russell Heng
1995: Wills and Secession by Eleanor Wong
1995: Purple by Goh Boon Teck*

Wills and Secession by Eleanor Wong was also responded to separately in The Vault: Ties That Bind.

Find out more about making theatre in the 1980s and 1990s in the essays & writings below! 

Published: 1 November 2019

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The Vault: Desert Blooms
The Vault: Desert Blooms is a lecture-performance tracing the history of Singapore theatre from 1985 to 1995 through a queer lens. It was during this period amidst laments of Singapore’s “cultural desert” that bold queer and queer-allied voices quietly but insistently began proliferating across the local theatre scene. Starting at the time when Army Daze’s Kenny Pereira first declared he could do a fabulous impersonation of Diana Ross (and the Supremes), through to when Mergers and Accusations’s Ellen me
19 October 2022
The Vault: Ties That Bind
The Vault: Ties That Bind comprises two short performances devised in response to Eleanor Wong’s Wills and Secession. This public presentation was to have taken place on 18 April 2020 at Teater Ekamatra’s Greymatter, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Since January, eleven students of the National University of Singapore’s Theatre Studies TS3103 Theatre Lab have been engaging with the text and context of Wills and Secession. The play is the second work of Eleanor Wong’s landma
19 October 2022